The four levels of workforce planning: which one is optimal for your organization?

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Personnel planning is trending. In the light of the increasing number of flex employees and people earning on the side, companies that work with variable schedules urgently need an easy way to create staff schedules. But not every company is identical. Depending on your type of staff (students, freelancers, extra earners etc.), the sector in which you operate and whether you work for external clients, you need a different way of scheduling staff.

Let's dive in: there are three, and by extension four, different levels of personnel planning. First of all, there is the operational level where you focus on the short term, the tactical level where you look at the medium term and the strategic level where the long-term vision is central. The fourth, and most recent, level is the data-driven and integrated method. In this way, personnel planning and continuity of daily activities are no longer dependent on individuals.

1) Operational level

If you make a personnel planning on an operational level, you see which employees are needed to perform all daily tasks. If you fill in assignments for customers, for example people agencies, you make a match between the demand of your customer and the staff available in your organization. You create task schedules and operational schedules, a task that can be performed by every manager and for which he or she does not need to be a specialist in planning or workforce management.

Organisations planning on the operational level often use Excel. Not the optimal way!

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2) Tactical level

When you make a workforce planning on a tactical level, you think beyond the short-term tasks and projects of your company. You draw up an annual plan taking into account a medium term of about one year. Exceptional periods are mapped out in this plan. Examples are months in which there are more work cancellations due to illness. Or vacation periods, when a large part of the staff is unavailable. You evaluate the staff deployment, which greatly increases the quality of your planning.

3) Strategic level

If you plan your workforce on a strategic level, you think about the long term of your company, three to five years ahead. You draw up a mission, vision and strategy in which you also include points of attention such as absenteeism and work-life balance. This strategic personnel planning must be in line with the company's plans for the future. Different levels in the company are involved: the board, HR and the managementteam. The big question is: which personnel do we need to achieve the company's mission? 

4) Data-driven & integrated level

Some recent sources now speak of a fourth level where personnel planning is no longer attached to one or more individuals in the organization. It is a system based on and controlled by artificial intelligence. However, this requires specialized planners in your organization who have experience with data analysis. The underlying idea is to predict certain aspects of personnel planning using data and analyses from the past. A good example in retail is the sales period: imagine that the cash register system and smart camera surveillance in your store(s) can be linked to your personnel planning tool. Then a prediction can be made that on the first day of sales in January, between 11 am and 4 pm, it will be three times as busy as usual. The planning tool can indicate that three times as many staff will be needed at that time.

Of course, the fourth and most recent level is the ultimate desire of every planner in a company. But the choice of a certain level and the corresponding types of planning and software packages depend on the wishes and the business of a company. For example, a company with a simple and static work organization that is particularly active during the daytime is less likely to benefit from a predictive software. In contrast to companies in the health care, retail or event sector where often multiple suppliers and employees work together or are spread across different locations.

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